Separation of State and Church

Note the title: I’m not talking about politicians staying clear of religion. That’s a separate issue.

My local church has announced that next week it’ll hand out a “Catholic Voter’s Guide.”

I find this an insidious abuse of religion. Not so much because I think it’s wrong for the church to leverage its power to influence politics (although I do), but because church is about God, not about politics. While I’m not one to quote scripture, consider Matthew 21:12, where Jesus can fairly be described as flipping out when people try to sell stuff in church. It’s not about politics, true, but I think the point is the same: church is about worshiping God. Attempting to campaign in a church strikes me as an unacceptable practice, and really, an affront to religion.

Granted, it could be worse. We don’t have enormous TV screens and invite candidates to our church to speak about politics as you sometimes see happening in the South. But I still can’t bring myself to support the church handing out political leaflets. Am I crazy to think this?

7 thoughts on “Separation of State and Church

  1. I don’t think it’s responsible for a church to push a single candidate, however, releasing a guide highlighting the candidates’ stance on various issues is pretty common. Interesting verse to bring up in the context, though.

    In the same vein, couldn’t you argue that “school is about learning, not about politics”? 😉

  2. You should be a lawyer. 😉

    I’d agree with “school is about learning, not about politics.” But I think it’s important to note that schools not only have a reason, but they have a duty, in my opinion, to cover politics. They need to be even more careful than church in that a teacher or curriculum can’t give any appearance of favoring one candidate or one party.

    I guess it’s too soon to condemn it, but I’m also fairly certain that whatever guide is released is going to be pretty slanted in terms of issues covered. Even though the church seems to focus on abortion and gay marriage, to me, things like making sure that our fellow man doesn’t go starving, or that our fellow man doesn’t get tortured, are also criticial.

    Of course my examples introduce my own slant. 😉 I guess my real point with that is that a leaflet covering only a subset of issues is irresponsible: it’s going to come across as a sort of endorsement (even if it’s not intended to, and even if they specifically state that it’s not), but without covering all the issues, it’s leaving voters uninformed.

    Since no Internet conversation is complete without an over-the-top Nazi comparison… 😉 Let’s say I wanted to issue a leaflet comparing candidates’ stances on revitalizing the auto industry and on “defense” of marriage (against the “homosexual agenda” of equality). Hitler gets full marks, but actual candidates from both parties fall apart. Jesus and Mother Teresa would get poor marks, in fact.

    Granted, if some nutcase on the street hands it out, you’re going to take it and throw it in the nearest trash can. Especially since you probably know that, despite his ranking, Hitler was among the most evil men on the planet. But the pamphlets I refer to aren’t being handed out by random nuts on the street, they’re being handed out by what millions would consider to be the most important part of their lives. And while they’d probably know that anything supporting Hitler was slanted, they’re not going to compare the other issues.

    And before partisanship slips in here: yes, I’d expect that this would come out endorsing Republicans, and yes, I object to that. But that’s just one on a huge list of reasons I think this is an ill-conceived plan.

  3. Where will it end? The next thing you know we will have unions and companies releasing political information. Or groups of women voters preparing guides. Gasp!

    More seriously though I think that a religion or a church that sees itself as completely seperate from daily life including politics isn’t worth being a part of. Yeah I understand about cloisters and contemplitve monks but that always seemed a cop out – an escape – an excuse to remove oneself from responsibility.

    A church should probably not endorse a specific candidate but failing to at least discuss the issues of the day from a religious point of view would be morally wrong.

  4. The difference, at least in my mind, is that, to most people, unions are just one facet of their life. You might place some stock in it, but nothing compares to the illusion that God is endorsing a certain set of candidates.

    My point wasn’t so much that churches should be prohibited from getting involved in politics (to do such would be a pretty clear First Amendment violation… on multiple levels, really), as it was to suggest that the church, in the interest of doing what’s right, should steer clear of it.

    However, your point about church needing to be involved in daily life is a really good one.

  5. Since you pulled out the Hitler comparison… Just imagine if a certain church had decided not to endorse either side in a certain political disagreement — and prevented Robert Newman from hanging a few lanterns (just one, or maybe two) in their steeple?

  6. And of course let us not forget the clergy involved in the civil rights movement. Should MLK Jr have stayed in his church rather than leading the protests he led?

    I have noticed that many of the same people who knock church for getting involved in politics when the church in question disagrees with them are full of praise for the church “following its mission” when it gets involved on their side.

  7. Pingback: Matt’s Blog » Catholic Voters’ Guide

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